Lapis lazuli has been sought after and used in jewellery for thousands of years. It’s rich blue colour, along with those sparkling flecks of fools gold iron pyrites make it truly irresistible! Unfortunately, lapis lazuli has also become one of the most faked gemstones in the world. It’s not easy to tell the difference between fake lazuli and the real gemstone. Many cheap minerals and gemstones (such as poor quality jasper, white howlite, spinel, sodalite or calcite) can be dyed to imitate it, while glass and plastic can been used to copy lapis lazuli too. Here are some quick tips to hopefully help you spot genuine good quality lapis Lazuli (and avoid the fakes) …….
- Firstly, look at the price. The best lapis lazuli commands very high prices, and tends to be set in gold. So if you see a string of lapis lazuli beads for only a couple of pounds/dollers, they could be fakes or very poor quality dyed stones. In my own personal experience, a standard nice quality lapis lazuli undyed natural bead necklace tends to cost from around £30 upwards.
- Poor quality Lapis lazuli can be dyed. Lapis lazuli is made up of a mix of minerals: lazurite (which gives it that distinctive blue colour), white calcite, dark grey-blue sodalite and golden ‘fools gold’ flecks of iron pyrites. Too much white in the gemstone means it classed as a cheaper calcite, too much dark blue-grey means it’s a cheaper sodalite. Poor quality lapis lazuli can be dyed to make it appear more desirable (see below photo).
- To test if your lapis lazuli has been dyed, simply wipe your stone with acetone or alcohol. If it loses its colour it’s either a fake, or a poor quality lazuli dyed to imitate better quality lazuli.
- Genuine lapis lazuli is around 5.5 on the MOHS gemstone hardness scale (diamonds are 10) which means it will just about scratch glass, though can itself be scratched with a knife.
- Look for the ‘fool’s gold’ (a.k.a iron pyrites) in your lazuli. These are little random golden flecks and tiny lines of dark metallic gold in the gemstone. Genuine ‘fools gold’ is surprisingly difficult to imitate – it usually ends up looking far too uniform and ‘perfect’ for it to be real.
- ‘Reconstructed Lapis Lazuli means that bits of the leftover lazuli gemstone have been ground up and then binded together to make a new stone or bead. It’s not really a fake as it does contain lazuli… but then it’s not the true real thing either. Re-constituted lapis lazuli often has an unatural pebble dash feel and look to it.
- If the Lapis Lazuli is simply too uniformly blue, and is cheap to buy, then it’s probably fake. Only the very best top quality Lazuli is a uniform blue colour, with virtually no fools gold. It is incredibly rare, deeply sought after and costs an absolute fortune; this is the type of lazuli you only see set into the finest 18k or 22k gold settings.
- Plastic faux Lapis Lazuli can be identified by holding it and tapping it on your teeth. Plastics will feel almost ‘warm’ (ie not cold like glass or gemstone), and will make a dull quiet clink when gently tapped against your teeth (gemstones and glass make a cold hard higher pitched ‘clink’ on the teeth).
- As with a lot of gemstones, lapis lazuli can be very cold to the touch. Although glass imitations are cold as well, they will quickly warm up when held – real gemstones often remain cool even after fairly prolonged holding.
- Glass faux Lapis Lazuli often has no gold specks in it, although some top quality imitations do. However, the flecks are too smooth and uniformly patterned to be real, and the blue colour is too ‘blue’, shiny and even.
- Real lapis lazuli will leave a blue-ish mark on a rough surface, such as an unglazed tile. When it’s cut in half, lazuli emits a foul odour; it contains sulfur, and this oxides (and smells foul) on reaction to the air. Both of these tests will of course completely ruin your stone, so I don’t recommend them! (Dyed inferior lapis lazuli will also stain a rough surface).
Hope these tips help 🙂